by Samuel Simas
The pasta simmers, and steam floats up into the stove light. The glow turns the kitchen walls yellow like cigarette-stained teeth. Mac curls and uncurls his toes in his rocking chair, the wood creaking. I take a blue dish towel to wipe away the silvery thread of drool from Mac’s face. He smiles at me, toothless, happy. When I pull the towel away, he says: The first star landed somewhere in the two-hundred mile stretch between Missoula and Spokane.
The night it fell, he says, people in Spokane had salted their driveways and strapped chains onto their tires for the winter storm. Channel 7’s Phil Arlee predicted snow high enough to lose your knees in, snow we weren’t ready for so early in December. When it fell, he says, you could see a pastel purple smudge of light chasing a clear moon-sized orb from every window in Spokane.
The heating element glows red and then blackens like a slow-motion stoplight across from the fire station. Water bubbles up and over, sizzling on the stove-top. I nab it and bring it to the steel colander in the sink. I turn on the faucet, and water gushes noisily out. Mac raises his voice.
Everyone went to find it, he says. Spokane, Missoula. Everyone. They loaded up their trucks and took off on I-90, chasing the orb to where they thought it landed somewhere between trees and snow.
Busker went by himself, Mac says. Took your red Chevy and drove an hour and a half, watching the trees of the Lolo Forest pass underneath falling snow. He wanted to drive until the Lolo kissed the Cœur D’Alene Forest. Once you passed the mid-point, you were on your way to the other city, through Montana. Busker didn’t want to go so far. He worried if he did, then he wouldn’t be able to make his way back.
Busker and I still shared the beat-up Chevy. It’s a good, sturdy truck that served us through more than one glacial winter. The bed is rotted out now, but it’s still good for a haul or two of wood during the fall as long as we don’t take too much. We’re holding onto it because the cars in Sandusky Automotive are too expensive for my income. We probably could have afforded the newer model, navy blue, if Busker were able to keep a job.
Mac continues: People went missing, he says. Most made it out of the woods after a day or two, he says, and the ones who could tell the trees apart by the scars on their trunks came out soonest. Busker made it out just fine, but somehow he lost his pants along the way.
I take off my wedding ring and wash my hands for the third time, but the smell of dead fish and deli-meat still overpower citrus-scented soap.
It was never a particularly beautiful ring. Busker picked out something the color of coal instead of a diamond. When he gave it to me, he explained it was a special stone. Worth more than a diamond, but it never shined. That was fine though. I didn’t need it to shine. . I loved it because Busker gave it to me, and it was all he had to give.
I look toward Mac, who slurps back saliva and looks at the shadows dancing on the wall from the soft glow of the television. He likes to watch it on mute and read the subtitles. He thinks it will keep his mind sharp.
When Busker knocked on the door, Mac says, his mother and I thought it was bad news. No one ever comes around late at night with anything good to say. Unless they’re expected.
His nose was bright red, the color of a cooked lobster, Mac says. And he wasn’t wearing pants! His hands and legs were turning dark purple from the cold. We brought him in, put him next to the fire with a glass of whiskey, and asked what happened.
He told us the long line of brake-lights leading from Spokane out towards Missoula looked like hunting season — the way trucks parked along the road towing carts behind. People crawled in and out of the trees searching for the bit of star they swore they’d seen fall. Some people let their children tag along in snow gear like tiny Michelin-men.
But he didn’t tell us if he found what he was looking for. He shook his head, eyes wide like a doe, and sipped away until the whiskey put him to sleep. He didn’t seem right. That’s what his mother thought. But he hasn’t seemed right since, has he?
No, he hasn’t, I say, And the purple never left his hands.
The man who had come back that night was sadder than I’d ever seen him. He looked like a boy who had lost his favorite pet to a truck charging down the road. A little hollow, a little scared.
I strain the pasta in the sink. When the steam fogs my glasses, I see the outline of Mac in his chair, the kitchen, and the low glow of the yellow light for a minute before it clears. My eyebrows pull together out of frustration, and I work as fast as I can to spoon the pasta onto paper plates. My hands don’t want to cooperate, and I drop some noodles onto the floor. Mac fidgets his arms and pushes himself up in the chair.
Stay there, I say. I’ll bring it to you,
What a good girl you are. What Busker did to get one as good as you, I’ll never know.
I set up the tray next to Mac’s chair and place the steaming plate of pasta on it. I sit down across from him to eat. It needs salt. I go into the kitchen. Busker is sleeping in the next room, his snoring like the low rumble of an engine. Called in sick again. I grab the salt and bring it with me to the sofa. Mac starts talking again.
Anyway, he says settling back into his chair, Busker took off after the thing. He thought if he found it you wouldn’t have to work another day in your life. He wanted to get you that car you two had talked about down at Sandusky’s.
Busker had been gliding from one job to another since a month after the star fell, never getting fired, never finding anything that made him happy. He started as a mechanic in the town over working on BMWs. Now, he was working as a third-shift security guard at the hospital.
I make enough money at Rock’s to keep the apartment and take care of us, but I wonder how long I’ll be able to do it before bludgeoning some high-maintenance customer.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t have to take care of Mac, too. He isn’t too needy, but he is there everyday when I get home from work, rocking away and reading the television subtitles, holding his bladder to the point of bursting because he can’t make it to the toilet.
He gets his social security check and spends it on licorice, ice-cream sandwiches, and those spongy orange circus peanut candies that no one eats besides the old and the batty.
When Busker stepped out of the truck, Mac says, it was quiet except for the voices in the woods. Snow up to his knees. He went on like that for an hour and didn’t make it more than half-a-mile into the thick.
Mac pauses to eat. He gums the pasta for a while, his lips stretching out like a duck bill, uninhibited by teeth. The television is muted, so I have no choice but to listen to him. I check my watch. 8:43. Almost time for Mac to doze off in his chair after his pill. I know how the story ends, how Busker finds nothing but somehow loses his pants.
Mac swallows hard and coughs. Busker searched for four hours, he says. He was convinced he’d find it. But then the sun started to turn the sky pink, and Busker thought about turning around and giving up.
Silence except for Mac’s labored breathing as he spoons in the last bit of pasta.
But he kept going,. He kept searching until the sun’s glare on the snow blinded him. He finally headed back to the truck. Four hours out and four hours back. He walked the entire time with you on his mind. And just before he got back to the road, Mac says, he found it.
As far as I knew, Busker hadn’t even come close to the fallen chunk of moon-rock. He had come back that night, face contorted with sadness, and hadn’t smiled since. I set the spoon down onto my plate, thinking Mac may have dozed off and started dream-talking.
Yup, he says, He never told you.
I watch Mac rock to the beat of music I can’t hear. His eyes are closed, and his voice is barely louder than a whisper.
He found it?
He found it less than one-hundred feet away from the Chevy, he says. Hadn’t noticed it when he set out into the woods. Must’ve been too dark. The impact had hollowed out a hole in the snow so deep he thought it was a foxhole at first. Then he saw the steam coming from it. Bent down, thinking someone must’ve torched a fox. But then he saw it, glittering in the snow like a diamond. Then, when he picked it up, the
rock turned coal-black,. The rock came off purple on his hands, like chalk.
He came back to town and waited two days. He hid the star wrapped-up and stowed away in the dash of his car. He brought it to the jeweler’s in town. They said every Tom, Dick, and Harry had come into their store the past week with their versions of the space rock.
Busker handed it over and said if he couldn’t sell it, then he wanted to turn it into a ring for you. The jeweler took the rock and looked at it through his magnifying glass. Looked up at Busker and then got to work. Busker didn’t have to convince him he found the real one. I think the jeweler knew.
Mac nods his head to let me know he is falling asleep.
Well, why didn’t he tell me? I ask.
I don’t know, Mac says. For the same reason he never told us how he lost his pants, I suppose.
I collect the plate from Mac’s tray and set everything into the kitchen sink. I look at the wedding ring. I’d never thought it was anything special, just an odd colored stone on a silver band. It is always cold to the touch, no matter how long I wear it.
Mac snores in harmony with Busker in the next room.
Why hadn’t Busker told me he found it that night?
I walk to our bedroom, leaving Mac to the muted flashings of the television. The doors usually creak when pushed open, but it was so cold the wood had shrunk. It opens soundlessly.
Busker sleeps restlessly. He scrunches his nose and turns to the side.
I pull the door shut behind me, afraid I’ll wake him.
I sit by his side. The curtains are open, and the night sky is still.
Busker rolls over and stops snoring. He reaches his hand out and grabs for mine. He holds it in his and strokes his thumb over my dry skin, my fingernails, my thumb. He finds the ring and presses it.
I squeeze his hand.
I know, Busker. I know.
Sam Simas is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Library and Information Science program. He has served as an Intern for GrubStreet, Barrow Street Press, and as a reader for The Ocean State Review. His fiction has appeared in The Corner Club Press, Steam Ticket, and others. Sam is currently the editor-in-chief at The Rocky Point Review. As a Journal featured writer, he welcomes correspondence, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Meteor. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Retrieved 17 Jun 2015, from